Conflict Resolution Family - 5 Tips
Introduction to Resolving Conflict in Families
Conflict resolution has a basis in many disciplines, including psychology, mediation, communication, human relations and even law. In this blog, we will look at conflict resolution in the family from a communications perspective. Communication may both trigger conflict in the family and be a means of resolving fights that go bad. Be sure to check out our other blog on conflict resolution in the family, entitled Family Fights & Fighting Fair: How to Peacefully Resolve Conflict.
In J. Rothwell’s text on Communicating in Small Groups and Teams, he looks at how to shape groups within the work context. We will look at the family as a group, and how you can help influence your family to become more supportive, which will help reduce the likelihood of family members being triggered into conflict, and help increase the chances of resolving conflict with and within your family. No one wants to be in a home with escalating conflict, so read more to learn some theory and techniques to help you resolve conflict in your family.
Conflict Communication in Families
The above text referred to Jack Gibb, who found patterns of communication that can end up leading to conflict. Specifically, he identified patterns of communication that instigate or decrease defensiveness. Defensiveness has been defined as “a reaction to a perceived attack on our self-concept and self-esteem”. See more information about defensiveness on our blog entitled Ending Blame and Defensiveness in Relationships. Defensiveness goes to the root of how we feel about ourselves (see our blog on How to Be Self Confident) and how we relate to others. The more defensiveness we feel (both in ourselves and from others), the more conflict we will experience.
The Goal is to have a Conflict Resolution Family
Instead of allowing defensiveness to take precedence in our family relationships, we need to foster supportive communication patterns, which invite cooperation.
1. Do Describe Positively; Do Not Evaluate Negatively
Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow.
Some cultures focus on blaming individual’s rather than taking group-responsibility – such is the case here in North America. This culture of blame might even be worse with what has been described as Online shaming: the return of mob morality. On the contrary, some aboriginal cultures, for example, believe that transgressions by an individual must be addressed with the entire community taking some responsibility (see our blog on Restorative Justice Principles).
In the family setting, it’s easier to blame someone else when we make a mistake than it is to take responsibility. It might be easier to blame someone else as we might be reacting in anger or we may feel embarrassment for what we did and may simply not be ready to take responsibility. The danger with this is that it can create a more hostile and unsupportive environment that will in turn lead to more blame and negativity. This behaviour will only backfire when you later become the recipient of it. The research mentioned in the above text focuses more on workplace environments, but it could be applied equally to families – the more we negatively evaluate others, the more defensiveness that results.
Alternatively, describe family members positively, including with praise, recognition and flattery. If you need to address behaviour that did not work for you, or made you uncomfortable, follow these ideas:
- Use “I feel” messages, or at the least, messages from your perspective and not others
- Describe behaviours in a neutral and specific manner, avoiding generalizations
- Avoid disguised insults (ie. I feel like you are a bad husband or I feel like you hate me)
2. Do be a Problem Solver with others; Do not be Controlling
“He who agrees against his will, is of the same opinion still”
When we tell people what to do, it is likely to lead to the 4 R’s: resistance, resentment, retaliation and revenge. The 4 R’s may have an undercurrent of what is called Psychological Reactance, being “the more someone tries to control us by telling us what to do, the more we are inclined to resist such efforts, or even do the opposite”.
To prevent a defensive family environment, we need to focus on cooperatively solving problems rather than controlling others. A great way of doing this is by following the steps in our blog entitled Constructive Confrontation.
3. Do have Empathy, Do not be Indifferent
Empathy begins with understanding life from another person's perspective. Nobody has an objective experience of reality. It's all through our own individual prisms.
Sterling K. Brown
We are indifferent with family when we simply don’t care what they have to say. We might be looking at them when the speak, but we might not be reflecting or thinking about what they are actually saying. When we do not acknowledge someone else’s communication, we are said to have an impervious response (see Sieberg and Larson, 1971 cited in the above text).
Instead of being indifferent, we must show empathy to our family members, which means showing true care and concern for them. Rothwell’s text emphasizes the importance of trying to see the other people’s perspectives and to act accordingly. This is likely to create a more supportive environment, where conflict is less likely to occur, and more conflict resolution is possible.
4. Do treat others as Equals; Do not act Superior
Here are the values that I stand for: honesty, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way you want to be treated and helping those in need. To me, those are traditional values.
Hopefully, these types of attitudes are not happening in your family, or you may be in a destructive relationship. However, one way that it might be more possible to see this superiority problem, is in how parents may treat kids as being inexperienced or unknowledgeable due to their age. Acting superior to your children might lead to resentment, and may decrease communication with them. Even if there are many things you may still need to teach them, communicate with them showing trust in their competence. Who knows, they might even surprise you!
5. Do use Provisionalism; Do not use Absolutes
Truth is a deep kindness that teaches us to be content in our everyday life and share with the people the same happiness.
Have you ever been with someone who tells you something that they believe to be true, but you have more information to invalidate their version of the truth? When we speak with complete certainty, we might instigate defensiveness in others. Another example is speaking with a relative who completely dismisses other’s perspectives, treating them as stupid. We know that someone is speaking in absolutes when they use the terms always, impossible, never or forever.
Alternatively, we might want to consider (see, we are using provisionalism in this statement) qualifying statements with possibly, perhaps, maybe, etc. Through provisionalism, we can side-step struggles to win in an argument. When we give freedom for other people to have a valid and valuable perspective, we can lessen the chances of defensiveness, and create a more supportive environment for communicating effectively, and resolving conflict.
Conflict Resolution Family - 5 Tips to Supportive Communication
Conclusion of Resolving Conflict in families
The big lesson here: avoid doing stuff that will frustrate and anger people! Defensiveness will lead to more defensiveness, and will escalate conflict.
We hope that this blog provides you with some ideas to prevent conflict in your family so that it does not happen in the first place. Family fights can have a big impact on you and the other members of your family. If you already experience high conflict in your family, try to shift patterns from defensive to supportive. Be sure to see our other blogs to address conflict in your family.
Conflict Resolution Family - 5 Tips to Supportive Communication